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After Wild Card loss to Vikings, Saints look ahead to uncertain future

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The Saints have had the most successful consecutive three-year run in the franchise’s history, with nothing to show for it

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Another year, another heartbreaking playoff loss. The New Orleans Saints have now lost two consecutive playoff games in overtime, the most recent a 26-20 loss against the Vikings in which they didn’t see the ball in the extra period. The game ended on a third-and-goal fade to Kyle Rudolph over P.J. Williams, and a promising season in which the Saints went 13-3 came to an abrupt end.

With that end comes a slew of issues. The Saints must now look ahead to 2020 after their third straight heartbreaking playoff loss, two of which came at the hands of the Vikings. The 2010s didn’t yield any Super Bowls (although the 2009 season technically ended in 2010 so it depends on how you look at it), which means it’s time to reload and move forward.

There are question marks at a lot of positions for the Saints. The first (and biggest) is at quarterback. At this point, it’s widely accepted that the Saints will keep Drew Brees for as long as he wants to play, and that should be the mentality. While Sunday was by no means his best game, Brees still had a strong season. We aren’t far removed from a week in which Brees completed 29 of 30 passes en route to breaking Peyton Manning’s touchdown record. While throwing downfield is limited, if Brees wants to continue playing, we can expect to see him back under center next season.

The Saints were first in the league in passer rating this year, notching a 110.2 rate. Brees was second in the league among eligible passers at 116.3, and he completed 74.3 percent of his passes. His four interceptions were also a career low. Brees was as efficient as ever, with the biggest knock on him being that the Saints’ big play threat isn’t the same. His average completed air yards were at 5.2, just above the BearsMitchell Trubisky and just below the Panthers’ Kyle Allen. His average intended air yards were at 6.7, the fourth-lowest in the league.

The Saints also have a choice to make with Teddy Bridgewater, who also had the lowest intended air yard average at 6.2. Bridgewater played extremely conservative and extremely well in his time starting for the Saints, and he became a fan favorite. He’s an excellent, safe backup, and perhaps with a full offseason designing an offense around him Sean Payton could make him a threat. However, other teams might be looking to pick Bridgewater up as a starter, and the Saints simply wouldn’t be able to match their prices in that scenario, particularly if they retain Brees.

At running back, the Saints have Latavius Murray locked up until the 2023 offseason, who really came on strong in the back half of the season. The bigger question will be what to do with Alvin Kamara. Kamara had 81 receptions for the third consecutive season, but he averaged a career-low 6.6 yards per catch. Part of this very likely came from the downfield passing game disappearing for large stretches of time, allowing teams to cover the running back. Kamara, however, did pick up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the third straight season — although he didn’t seem quite as bouncy as he did the previous two seasons.

Kamara is potentially in-line for an extension as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Ezekiel Elliott has set the standard for running back contracts with the six-year, $90 million deal he signed last season. Kamara’s most recent season might not justify that money, but his body of work does, and he’ll likely expect something in that ballpark. The emergence of Murray may make that a hard pill for the Saints to swallow, particularly with other large contracts like Michael Thomas’ on the books.

Speaking of Thomas, another question mark is his supporting cast. Thomas broke the reception record this year with 149, but part of that is due to lack of other options. Ted Ginn Jr. and Tre’Quan Smith combined for 48 catches on the season. Jared Cook was a strong option for the Saints, and he will be heading into next season, but the Saints need more depth in their receiving corps so that the deep ball can open up. That would benefit Brees, Kamara and Thomas in the passing game.

The Saints will need to look at middle-tier receivers to fill this hole, or address it in the draft. But it has to be addressed.

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The last question mark is, believe it or not, Taysom Hill. Saints fans may not like to hear it, but he can’t keep playing like he has been forever. He’s taking a lot of abuse, and he’s already nearly 30. While it’s incredibly fun to see him line up all over the formation, the Saints will need to establish a role for him eventually, lest they wear him out too early.

The good news, after all of this, is that the Saints’ defense will remain largely intact. A.J. Klein has earned a new contract, as his voids for the 2020 season. The list of 2021 free agents, however, is alarming. It consists of:

  • Sheldon Rankins
  • Mario Edwards
  • Trey Hendrickson
  • Demario Davis
  • Kiko Alonso
  • Craig Robertson
  • Janoris Jenkins
  • Marcus Williams

While the Saints could survive hits to the defensive line (although a good season from a healthy Rankins next year would make him hard to let go), the linebacking corps will have to be reloaded. Davis in particular absolutely has to be re-signed, and Alonso had an excellent year since joining the Saints as well.

This offseason is going to present a lot of challenges for Mickey Loomis. The Saints aren’t going to have a ton of cap money to work with, so priorities are going to have to be set. There’s a lot of talent on the Saints, and for the defense in particular, continuity is going to be key moving forward.

One thing this season taught us is that the Saints are continuing to undergo a philosophy shift. The air raid offense can still take hold — like it showed against the Colts last season — but the Saints like to win games ugly. With that in mind, Brees and Bridgewater are perfect at the helm for the Saints for their efficiency and lack of proneness to mistakes. However, there are a lot of question marks around them.